Health
by Janice Eidus
 
 

You're obsessed with it, so you go for a check up.

Your doctor says that basically you're in excellent health.

Before you can breathe a sigh of relief, she adds, "However, your irregular Pap Smear may indicate a pre-cancerous condition, your shortness of breath may indicate asthma, and your severe reaction to Prozac may indicate manic-depression."

She sends you to three more doctors -- one for cancer, one for asthma, one for manic-depression -- who give you tests and then send you home to await results.

While you wait, you try to figure out how in the world, on a freelancer's salary, with paltry health insurance, you're going to be able to pay all these doctors.

You begin to experience stabbing pains where you're sure your cervix is.

You have palpitations and can't breathe.

You go on a manic shopping spree, from TriBeca through SoHo through both the East and West Villages, maxing out your credit cards in the process. Afterward, you go home and drink a Scotch, feeling morbidly depressed because you have no money left.

The results of the tests come back a week later. The three doctors tell you that basically you're in excellent health. You call your first doctor to tell her the good news. She gently suggests that perhaps you have some stress in your life. "Why don't you see a psychotherapist?" she asks, rhetorically.

You find a psychotherapist whose office is a convenient two blocks from your apartment. You explain to her that while in a stress-induced state of mania, you recently maxed out all your credit cards, and that your freelance income is unstable and your health insurance won't cover psychotherapy and you'll be paying for her services out of your own not-very-deep pockets.

She looks so bored, you figure she's heard it all before and won't adjust her rates no matter what you say, so you give up and try to liven up the session by telling her that your friends describe you as "mercurial," "volatile" and "intense." She continues to look bored.

You leave her office and walk five blocks uptown to your health club for a work out. Your former Nautilus trainer is there. You had to stop training with him because you could no longer afford his fee. He comes over to chat while you're doing squats. You tell him you're not happy with your thighs. He gives you a long lecture about how you're oppressed by society's image of feminine beauty, and how you need to break free of that image in order to become a fully liberated woman. You feel ashamed because he's a staunch political conservative and usually you're the one who lectures him about his politically incorrect beliefs. You pull a muscle in your thigh and scream out in pain and feel even more ashamed.

During your next session, your psychotherapist tells you that shame is bad for both your mental and physical health.

You leave her office feeling depressed. Everyone knows (your doctor, your former Nautilus trainer, your psychotherapist, and you, yourself) that you will never be good enough, smart enough, thin enough, rich enough, politically correct enough, mentally or physically healthy enough. And you'll never have enough income or good enough health insurance to help you get better.

You fantasize about moving to Canada because you believe that their health care system is more humane and you will be more readily cured there. You are, however, susceptible to very bad colds, and you fear the Canadian winter too much.

So you stay put in your own country, growing increasingly obsessed with your health, as well as increasingly mercurial, volatile, and intense.

Over the years, you experience more irregular Pap Smears, more shortness of breath, more bizarre reactions to various prescribed and over-the-counter medications, and more muscle pulls in your thigh.

Eventually your obsession with your health feels as familiar as an old shoe or an old friend. You grow to accept it, even to welcome it. And why shouldn't you? After all, basically you're in excellent health. And you're alive.

* * *